How Incognito Google Maps Protects Your Identity — And How It Doesn’t

How Incognito Google Maps Protects Your Identity — And How It Doesn’t
     Lily Hay Newman posted an article this week on the security and technology website,, explaining how going Incognito on Google Maps does not guarantee digital anonymity and search activity. As she notes, “behavior tracking and location tracking,” have become an endemic issue with respect to one’s privacy and digital activity, thus Google — like most other digital entities — are taking steps to make it harder for cyber thieves and others to track your digital trail. “Google has introduced a raft of privacy improvements,” she wrote. “Among them: A new Incognito Mode for Maps, which prevents Google from saving certain types of data, and removes personalizatiion touches from its Maps app. Just don’t assume its makes your [digital] movements untraceable,” she warns.
     “Incognito Mode for Maps will roll out on Android this month,” Google said in a blogpost this week. “It builds on Incognito for the Chrome browser, which first launched in 2008, and for the YouTube app, where it appeared earlier this year,” Ms. Newman wrote. “But, as with those predecessors, it’s important to understand not just the benefits — but, the limits of going Incognito.”
     “Enabling the new feature stops data generated from that specific device from showing up in your Google Location History,” Ms. Newman wrote. “If you’re sharing your location with someone through Google Maps, it’ll pause updates about the devices location when active. And, Maps Incognito Mode also stops app-related notifications and app personalization. But it doesn’t offer a protective [digital] blanket across all your devices,” she warns.
     When you turn on Maps Incognito Mode, a message warns: “Turning on Incognito Mode in Maps does not affect how your [digital] activity is used, or saved by Internet providers, other apps, voice search, and other Google services.”  “This means that Maps Incognito Mode isn’t doing anything to mask or anonymize your web traffic [activity] to the outside world — it’s simply minimizing the record of your Maps browsing in your own Google account, and a way to pause location sharing from other Maps users from that device,” Ms. Newman wrote. “Similarly, Chrome’s Incognito Mode doesn’t do anything to keep websites, employers, or Internet service providers from seeing your browsing [web] activity.”
     “We want to give people more choice and control when it comes to how they manage their data on Google Maps, and we know there are certain times when you may not want your [digital] activity tied to you,” Marlo McGriff, a Google Maps product manager told WIRED. “For example, say you share a device with your significant other — you probably don’t want them knowing that you recently searched for engagement ring stores nearby.”
     “Think of Google’s Incognito Modes then, as less of a sophisticated privacy tool, and more of a pause button on a TV remote — you just use it occasionally when you’re going to the bathroom, or to get a beer from the fridge,” Ms. Newman wrote. “If you want to anonymize your browsing, or disrupt your Internet provide’s insight, consider using Tor, or a VPN instead.”  
     “Google’s privacy policy says that when you are not signed into a Google Account, the company still collects and stores information about your browsing behavior in its services, but ties that data to a unique identifier, rather than a full account,” Ms. Newman wrote. “Google says that data from Incognito Maps sessions is stored with a unique identifier assigned to that individual Incognito session. The ID is not tied to the user’s account, and reset in any new session.”
     “Incognito Mode is designed to be used as needed as opposed to always being an always-on session,” McGriff told WIRED. “While you can still navigate, get directions, and search for places while Incognito, you lose all of the personalized Map features, such as the ability to see restaurant recommendations, or information tailored to your route.”
     “Google also announced other privacy-related measures last week as well,” Ms. Newman wrote. “YouTube will now offer a setting to auto-delete your video browsing history every three, or eighteen months. And, the company is also adding its Password Checkup, formerly just an extension, to Chrome’s built-in password manager. The tool combs stolen credentials from data breaches to flag any of your passwords that have been compromised.”
     “And, as part of Google’s efforts to improve voice-related privacy within Assistant, you’ll now be able to say, “Hey Google, delete the last thing I said, or “Hey Google, delete everything I said to you last week,” without having to navigate through the menus or settings in a browser,” Ms. Newman wrote. “In a browser, Amazon added similar data deletion to Alexa in May. You’ll also be able to ask Google Assistant, “Hey Google, how do you keep me safe?”
     As I have been writing for years, and in many blog-posts, there is no such thing as total digital anonymity. Your keystrokes can be analyzed. The way you type, the syntax and way you write, and so on, can be analyzed by big data mining, algorithms, and machine learning, to eventually identify you. Sure, if you take all the steps required to muddy your digital tracks — an article that details all these steps can be found on this blog — you can hide or keep your digital identity secret from over 95 percent of the malcontents. But, a savvy cyber thief/sleuth, with the right talent, skills, time, resources, and effort, is likely to eventually find you — if they are determined to do so. It only takes a few careless, and seemingly insignificant digital mistakes to ‘blow your digital cover.’ Just remember, there is nothing out there in the digital world that can completely hide your digital identity from a sophisticated opponent or adversary. Yes, you can go off-the-grid, but for the overwhelming majority of us, that isn’t practical, nor desirable. Just understand Incognito doesn’t mean, not findable in the digital world. But, you can muddy your digital tracks enough, to make the adversary have to navigate a digital wilderness of mirrors to find you. And remember, denial and deception are in full bloom in the digital universe. RCP,

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